PreSonus Blog

The Virtual “How Does It Sound in a Car?” Tester

This tip is for those who won’t sign off on a mix until they’ve heard it in a car. There may be a scientific reason why this is beneficial: Noise tends to mask sounds, so if one instrument you want to hear gets lost in the noise and another jumps out, try a mix that raises and lowers those levels, respectively.

The ear doesn’t discriminate level differences as accurately as pitch differences, so without noise masking a sound, the level may seem okay. But as soon as you mix in noise, an important sound may disappear. If you increase the level just a bit so you can hear it, when you remove the noise there’s a very good chance you’ll like the new level setting better. Think of this as doing something similar to compression, but without applying any actual dynamics. You’re just making sure that the levels needing parity, have parity.

Of course this doesn’t mean you want everything jumping out of the noise—those tambourine and shaker parts are probably just fine as they are. The main sounds to listen to here are vocals, leads, drums, and bass, as well as their relationship to each other.

This also doesn’t mean you should mix consistently with noise, as it will bias your hearing (and besides, it’s truly annoying). I add noise in with a mix as a last diagnostic step. If the mix has sounded fine up until then and passes this final test, I consider it ready to master. And I don’t need to go driving anywhere, either.

Setup

Just follow the steps, and you’ll be good to go.

 

  1. Create a stereo audio track, and insert the Tone Generator effect. Turn the track’s fader all the way down.
  2. Choose Pink Noise as the waveform.
  3. Click On to start generating noise.
  4. Turn up the track’s fader to add noise to the mix.

One very cool aspect of the Tone Generator’s noise is that it’s true stereo where the left and right channels don’t correlate, so you don’t get any center channel buildup (as would happen with a mono noise signal).

As to how much noise to add, it’s kind of like maximizing. Set it 6 dB below the mix’s peaks, and you’ll hear what occupies the upper 6 dB of dynamic range. Set it 12 dB below the mix’s peaks, and you’ll hear what’s in the upper 12 dB of dynamic range. This isn’t an exact spec per se, but it provides a rough standard of comparison.

As crazy as this idea sounds, try it sometime and tweak your mix. Then turn off the noise, take a short break so your ears get acclimated back to normal hearing, and then check the mix again. I won’t be surprised if you hear an improvement!

 

  • Craig Anderton

    I suppose you could do a car test for the situation you mention – alternate speakers in an alternate environment – without actually driving or moving the car, but I’ve never known anyone who’s done it that way. What this tip describes is different from the idea of testing over multiple speakers (or speakers + headphones). It’s about what gets masked by noise, and what doesn’t. As mentioned in the second paragraph, the ear not being able to discriminate levels all that well has a lot to do with this. I’m sure most people have experienced the situation of listening back to a mix the next day, and finding out that some tracks that seemed okay were overly loud or soft. Mixing with noise can help identify those tracks. Does that make more sense now?

  • Nicholas Garret

    In an amplified car system, you need to set your amplifier’s gain correctly in order to enjoy your music’s full range of dynamics and frequency response — hearing all the notes clearly, whether loud or soft. You’ll feel your music’s impact better and hear exciting details that otherwise would get lost in your car.
    Useful site : https://www.audioreputation.com/

  • Fishersgreen

    I don’t really get this. Isn’t the car test about how it sounds though different speakers in a more confined listening environment. Not to do with a noisy environment. Or am I missing the point ?

  • Jøran Dahl

    I learned the car-thing AFTER I released my first song for streaming. Sounded great in my studio monitors and headset… but in my car it was like my voice jumped out of the speakers. Not the way I wanted it… 🙂 So now – no new song before the car test is done 🙂

  • Craig Anderton

    I couldn’t find which video has it, do you know the title? There are definitely some interesting videos in there. FWIW I first wrote about this technique 18 years ago, so it’s not particularly new…but the Tone Generator in Studio One makes it *really* easy to do.

  • Benny Goodliffe

    cmp does a tutorial video with so3 on this subject. check his youtube channel out.

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEnSmtkTHmxJGSuyTlmWG-A

  • Craig Anderton

    You might find Audified’s Mixchecker plug-in useful. It emulates the sound of going through multiple different types of playback devices – speakers, earbuds, laptops, etc. I reviewed it at https://www.harmonycentral.com/expert-reviews/audified-mixchecker-plug-in

  • Jason M Stallworth

    THIS is what I’ve been preaching since I started recording my own music. I listen to the final mastered mix on MANY sources, not just the studio. Everything sounds great in the studio but we have to listen through not only our car, but also normal headphones, the computer, etc = all the listening sources that people use everyday!

  • Craig Anderton

    I know it sounds crazy, but it really can give you a perspective on a mix you might not have otherwise.

  • Nice one. I don’t have a car. So this is very convenient. I will do this now for every mix. Thanks.